Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 70

New profession — Beautiful night — Jupiter — Sharp and shrill — The Rommany chi — All alone — Three-and-sixpence — What is Rommany? Be civil — Parraco tute — Slight start — She will be grateful — The rustling.

I passed the greater part of the day in endeavouring to teach myself the mysteries of my new profession. I cannot say that I was very successful, but the time passed agreeably, and was therefore not ill spent. Towards evening I flung my work aside, took some refreshment, and afterwards a walk.

This time I turned up the small footpath of which I have already spoken. It led in a zigzag manner through thickets of hazel, elder, and sweet-brier; after following its windings for somewhat better than a furlong, I heard a gentle sound of water, and presently came to a small rill, which ran directly across the path. I was rejoiced at the sight, for I had already experienced the want of water, which I yet knew must be nigh at hand, as I was in a place to all appearance occasionally frequented by wandering people, who I was aware never take up their quarters in places where water is difficult to be obtained. Forthwith I stretched myself on the ground, and took a long and delicious draught of the crystal stream, and then, seating myself in a bush, I continued for some time gazing on the water as it purled tinkling away in its channel through an opening in the hazels, and should have probably continued much longer had not the thought that I had left my property unprotected compelled me to rise and return to my encampment.

Night came on, and a beautiful night it was; up rose the moon, and innumerable stars decked the firmament of heaven. I sat on the shaft, my eyes turned upwards. I had found it: there it was twinkling millions of miles above me, mightiest star of the system to which we belong: of all stars the one which has most interest for me — the star Jupiter.

Why have I always taken an interest in thee, O Jupiter? I know nothing about thee, save what every child knows, that thou art a big star, whose only light is derived from moons. And is not that knowledge enough to make me feel an interest in thee? Ay, truly; I never look at thee without wondering what is going on in thee; what is life in Jupiter? That there is life in Jupiter who can doubt? There is life in our own little star, therefore there must be life in Jupiter, which is not a little star. But how different must life be in Jupiter from what it is in our own little star! Life here is life beneath the dear sun — life in Jupiter is life beneath moons — four moons — no single moon is able to illumine that vast bulk. All know what life is in our own little star; it is anything but a routine of happiness here, where the dear sun rises to us every day: then how sad and moping must life be in mighty Jupiter, on which no sun ever shines, and which is never lighted save by pale moonbeams! The thought that there is more sadness and melancholy in Jupiter than in this world of ours, where, alas! there is but too much, has always made me take a melancholy interest in that huge distant star.

Two or three days passed by in much the same manner as the first. During the morning I worked upon my kettles, and employed the remaining part of the day as I best could. The whole of this time I only saw two individuals, rustics, who passed by my encampment without vouchsafing me a glance; they probably considered themselves my superiors, as perhaps they were.

One very brilliant morning, as I sat at work in very good spirits, for by this time I had actually mended in a very creditable way, as I imagined, two kettles and a frying-pan, I heard a voice which seemed to proceed from the path leading to the rivulet; at first it sounded from a considerable distance, but drew nearer by degrees. I soon remarked that the tones were exceedingly sharp and shrill, with yet something of childhood in them. Once or twice I distinguished certain words in the song which the voice was singing; the words were — but no, I thought again I was probably mistaken — and then the voice ceased for a time; presently I heard it again, close to the entrance of the footpath; in another moment I heard it in the lane or glade in which stood my tent, where it abruptly stopped, but not before I had heard the very words which I at first thought I had distinguished.

I turned my head; at the entrance of the footpath, which might be about thirty yards from the place where I was sitting, I perceived the figure of a young girl; her face was turned towards me, and she appeared to be scanning me and my encampment; after a little time she looked in the other direction, only for a moment, however; probably observing nothing in that quarter, she again looked towards me, and almost immediately stepped forward; and, as she advanced, sang the song which I had heard in the wood, the first words of which were those which I have already alluded to.

‘The Rommany chi And the Rommany chal Shall jaw tasaulor To drab the bawlor, And dook the gry Of the farming rye.’

A very pretty song, thought I, falling again hard to work upon my kettle; a very pretty song, which bodes the farmers much good. Let them look to their cattle.

‘All alone here, brother?’ said a voice close by me, in sharp but not disagreeable tones.

I made no answer, but continued my work, click, click, with the gravity which became one of my profession. I allowed at least half a minute to elapse before I even lifted up my eyes.

A girl of about thirteen was standing before me; her features were very pretty, but with a peculiar expression; her complexion was a clear olive, and her jet black hair hung back upon her shoulders. She was rather scantily dressed, and her arms and feet were bare; round her neck, however, was a handsome string of corals, with ornaments of gold; in her hand she held a bulrush.

‘All alone here, brother?’ said the girl, as I looked up; ‘all alone here, in the lane; where are your wife and children?’

‘Why do you call me brother?’ said I; ‘am no brother of yours. Do you take me for one of your people? I am no gypsy; not I, indeed!’

‘Don’t be afraid, brother, you are no Roman — Roman indeed, you are not handsome enough to be a Roman; not black enough, tinker though you be. If I called you brother, it was because I didn’t know what else to call you. Marry, come up, brother, I should be sorry to have you for a brother.’

‘Then you don’t like me?’

‘Neither like you nor dislike you, brother; what will you have for that kekaubi?’

‘What’s the use of talking to me in that unchristian way; what do you mean, young gentlewoman?’

‘Lord, brother, what a fool you are; every tinker knows what a kekaubi is. I was asking you what you would have for that kettle.’

‘Three-and-sixpence, young gentlewoman; isn’t it well mended?’

‘Well mended! I could have done it better myself; three-and-sixpence! it’s only fit to be played at football with.’

‘I will take no less for it, young gentlewoman; it has caused me a world of trouble.’

‘I never saw a worse mended kettle. I say, brother, your hair is white.’

‘’Tis nature; your hair is black; nature, nothing but nature.’

‘I am young, brother; my hair is black — that’s nature: you are young, brother; your hair is white — that’s not nature.’

‘I can’t help it if it be not, but it is nature after all; did you never see gray hair on the young?’

‘Never! I have heard it is true of a gray lad, and a bad one he was. Oh, so bad.’

‘Sit down on the grass, and tell me all about it, sister; do, to oblige me, pretty sister.’

‘Hey, brother, you don’t speak as you did — you don’t speak like a gorgio, you speak like one of us, you call me sister.’

‘As you call me brother; I am not an uncivil person after all, sister.’

‘I say, brother, tell me one thing, and look me in the face — there — do you speak Rommany?’

‘Rommany! Rommany! what is Rommany?’

‘What is Rommany? our language to be sure; tell me, brother, only one thing, you don’t speak Rommany?’

‘You say it.’

‘I don’t say it, I wish to know. Do you speak Rommany?’

‘Do you mean thieves’ slang — cant? no, I don’t speak cant, don’t like it, I only know a few words; they call a sixpence a tanner, don’t they?’

‘I don’t know,’ said the girl, sitting down on the ground, ‘I was almost thinking — well, never mind, you don’t know Rommany. I say, brother, I think I should like to have the kekaubi.’

‘I thought you said it was badly mended?’

‘Yes, yes, brother, but — ’

‘I thought you said it was only fit to be played at football with?’

‘Yes, yes, brother, but — ’

‘What will you give for it?’

‘Brother, I am the poor person’s child, I will give you sixpence for the kekaubi.’

‘Poor person’s child; how came you by that necklace?’

‘Be civil, brother; am I to have the kekaubi?’

‘Not for sixpence; isn’t the kettle nicely mended?’

‘I never saw a nicer mended kettle, brother; am I to have the kekaubi, brother?’

‘You like me then?’

‘I don’t dislike you — I dislike no one; there’s only one, and him I don’t dislike, him I hate.’

‘Who is he?’

‘I scarcely know, I never saw him, but ’tis no affair of yours, you don’t speak Rommany; you will let me have the kekaubi, pretty brother?’

‘You may have it, but not for sixpence; I’ll give it to you.’

‘Parraco tute, that is, I thank you, brother; the rikkeni kekaubi is now mine. O, rare! I thank you kindly, brother.’

Starting up, she flung the bulrush aside which she had hitherto held in her hand, and, seizing the kettle, she looked at it for a moment, and then began a kind of dance, flourishing the kettle over her head the while, and singing —

‘The Rommany chi And the Rommany chal Shall jaw tasaulor To drab the bawlor, And dook the gry Of the farming rye.

Good-bye, brother, I must be going.’

‘Good-bye, sister; why do you sing that wicked song?’

‘Wicked song, hey, brother! you don’t understand the song!’

‘Ha, ha! gypsy daughter,’ said I, starting up and clapping my hands, ‘I don’t understand Rommany, don’t I? You shall see; here’s the answer to your gillie —

‘The Rommany chi And the Rommany chal, Love Luripen And dukkeripen, And hokkeripen, And every pen But Lachipen And tatchipen.’

The girl, who had given a slight start when I began, remained for some time after I had concluded the song standing motionless as a statue, with the kettle in her hand. At length she came towards me, and stared me full in the face. ‘Gray, tall, and talks Rommany,’ said she to herself. In her countenance there was an expression which I had not seen before — an expression which struck me as being composed of fear, curiosity, and the deepest hate. It was momentary, however, and was succeeded by one smiling, frank, and open. ‘Ha, ha, brother,’ said she, ‘well, I like you all the better for talking Rommany; it is a sweet language, isn’t it? especially as you sing it. How did you pick it up? But you picked it up upon the roads, no doubt? Ha, it was funny in you to pretend not to know it, and you so flush with it all the time; it was not kind in you, however, to frighten the poor person’s child so by screaming out, but it was kind in you to give the rikkeni kekaubi to the child of the poor person. She will be grateful to you; she will bring you her little dog to show you, her pretty juggal; the poor person’s child will come and see you again; you are not going away today, I hope, or tomorrow, pretty brother, gray-haired brother — you are not going away tomorrow, I hope?’

‘Nor the next day,’ said I, ‘only to take a stroll to see if I can sell a kettle; good-bye, little sister, Rommany sister, dingy sister.’

‘Good-bye, tall brother,’ said the girl, as she departed, singing

‘The Rommany chi,’ etc.

‘There’s something about that girl that I don’t understand,’ said I to myself; ‘something mysterious. However, it is nothing to me, she knows not who I am, and if she did, what then?’

Late that evening as I sat on the shaft of my cart in deep meditation, with my arms folded, I thought I heard a rustling in the bushes over against me. I turned my eyes in that direction, but saw nothing. ‘Some bird,’ said I; ‘an owl, perhaps’; and once more I fell into meditation; my mind wandered from one thing to another — musing now on the structure of the Roman tongue — now on the rise and fall of the Persian power — and now on the powers vested in recorders at quarter-sessions. I was thinking what a fine thing it must be to be a recorder of the peace, when, lifting up my eyes, I saw right opposite, not a culprit at the bar, but, staring at me through a gap in the bush, a face wild and strange, half covered with gray hair; I only saw it a moment, the next it had disappeared.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32